Oh Well, We Can Always Pray
There are so many things wrong with the world that it is a wonder we are not overwhelmed. But as Chesterton had King Alfred say in his Ballad of the White Horse, we Christians generally have more heart to fight and die than pagans have to live. Thus does the Christian King Alfred, defeated and disguised as a minstrel, answer the sad and despairing songs of the pagan Lord Guthrim:
“I will even answer the mighty earl
That asked of Wessex men
Why they be meek and monkish folk,
And bow to the White Lord’s broken yoke;
What sign have we save blood and smoke?
Here is my answer then.
“That on you is fallen the shadow,
And not upon the Name;
That though we scatter and though we fly
And you hang over us like the sky
You are more tired of victory,
Than we are tired of shame.
“That though you hunt the Christian man
Like a hare in the hill-side
The hare has still more heart to run
Than you have heart to ride.
“That though all lances split on you,
All swords be heaved in vain,
We have more lust again to lose
Than you to win again.”
The same thought is expressed, though somewhat differently, by St. Paul: “We are treated as imposters, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Cor 6:8-10).
The key to understanding both King Alfred and St. Paul is the interior life, the life we possess in Christ through grace, which is nourished and brought to intimacy through prayer. For it is through prayer, and the confidence prayer engenders in the power of God, that we live in the hope of things unseen, and of a fuller triumph than has yet been tasted.
Nothing We Can Do
How often have we felt in countless situations that things were very much wrong but there was nothing we could do? I have heard this said again and again, sometimes in despair, sometimes as an excuse. But as Christians, there is always something we can do. We can pray. And we can offer up our disappointments and sorrows in prayer as well, making of our entire lives a sacrifice of praise.
The power of prayer is extraordinary because the power of Him Whom we address in prayer is extraordinary—in fact, unlimited: “For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move hence to yonder place,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you” (Mt 17:20-21). The same Lord who rebuked his disciples in these words commanded all of us to pray: “Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For every one who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Mt 7:7-8; cf. Lk 11:9-10).
All of this is so true that the Devil will try mightily to keep us from praying. He will tempt us to worry about our time; he will multiply inconveniences and difficulties; he will put us out of countenance so we are no longer in the right mood; he will distract us, shattering our recollection; he will alternately tempt us to be proud of our prayer or afraid of our unworthiness: Anything to get us to stop, or to spoil the result.
A Simple Reminder
I was reminded of this rather forcefully just last night when I was working to release our Perpetual Rosary for the election of pro-life candidates in the American elections on November 4th. This was not my idea. A friend started it locally among the students, teachers, and families associated with Seton School in Manassas, Virginia. Many signed up for fifteen minute time slots so that the Rosary would be prayed around the clock between now and election day. But Seton is a small community, and not all the slots were filled, so he asked me if we could put it online.
One of our programmers built a program for it, one of our designers styled it, and I spent some time connecting up all the parts and inputting the time slots already taken by Setonites. There were various minor glitches and obstacles along the way (as there always are whenever one tries to do anything good), and last night I was repeatedly and unreasonably annoyed and even angry about the whole blankety-blank thing. Mutter, mutter. Sputter, sputter. It took me far too long to realize that this was way out of proportion, and that the Devil (none too subtly, for anyone paying attention) was messing with me. But even though I eventually realized this, it still took me too long get these unreasonable feelings of annoyance and futility under control.
Even sadder, I had an hour of Eucharistic Adoration in the middle of this process, and I still had trouble gaining a proper perspective! Now why should this be, apart from my own all-too evident spiritual weaknesses? After all, I’ve done a hundred projects no less technically and logistically difficult without burning myself up. The answer is that the Devil always tries to spoil prayer. Most of my readers already know this. If you don’t, ask yourself why your family argues on the way to Mass, or you’re crabby on Sunday morning, or how hard it is to find time to pray, or to concentrate, or to approach it positively. Sure, the world and the flesh present their problems. But I think you’ll find I’m right that there is often something more – no, someone more – at work.
Now the Rosary is an extremely powerful prayer. Don’t ask me exactly why. It just is. If you do a search in our library, you’ll find that a half dozen of the popes of the past hundred years or so have issued encyclicals on the Rosary. In fact, Pope Leo XIII issued no fewer than eleven encyclicals on the Rosary between 1883 and 1898. So quite apart from the massive and long-standing use of the Rosary by religious communities, priests and laity alike, this is one prayer that has generated a tremendous amount of Magisterial buzz. Just a few years ago, John Paul II even gave us a new set of mysteries—the Luminous Mysteries.
So it isn’t any wonder that the Father of Lies has a particular dislike of the Rosary, very probably a dislike second only to his hatred of the Mass itself. As I said, the petty signs of his displeasure with my own Rosary project this week were a good reminder of what’s at stake in prayer, and who all the players are. What all of us must come to realize more deeply is that prayer is not only the one thing we can always do, it is the most important thing we can ever do.
This doesn’t mean that we are called to pray to the exclusion of other things. We all have various responsibilities in accordance with our natures, our vocations and our circumstances. But it does mean that we need to gain greater confidence in prayer as the true antidote for so many seemingly overpowering ills. “And he told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not to lose heart” (Lk 18:1), but Jesus ended this parable with a pointed question: “Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth” (Lk 18:8)?
What about our faith? Do we believe in the power of prayer? Do we even really believe in the power of God? I ask only because it is profoundly true that, in every circumstance, there is one thing we can do. Moreover, this one thing is also the most important thing, and the key to every other thing. We can always do the “one thing needful” (Lk 10:42). We can put our trust in God, and pray.
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